Friday, December 23, 2005

2005 was a kind of curious year in book publishing in political theory and philosophy. The market was mainly filled with huge Companions or Very Short Introductions or anything else besides actual monographs. It doesn't seem to me that there was any book that captured everyone's attention. There was no new book in the prestigious Oxford Political Theory series. People have been talking for the past few years about the absence of any set of questions so exciting and energizing as to draw everyone out of their niches and into a common conversation. This year seemed to me the year in which that absence filtered through to the lagging-indicator of newly-published monographs.

Now, there's nothing wrong with that. The exciting, unifying, common-conversation Big Ideas are only sometimes productive. There need to be signficant periods of time when people are working in their niches and making progress there. Frankly, I enjoy going to APSA more in the years when it's filled with scores of panels with interesting new papers, each following its own logic of argument and discovery, than in the years when everyone feels compelled to give a paper about, e.g., deliberative democracy.

But in those fragmentary moments, excellent books can get published that don't get noticed because they're in other people's niches. I like to see good work get read and recognized, and like to discourage the occasional bout of "nothing good is being done these days" despair. So, as a partial corrective, a list of ten excellent, interesting, important, or potentially transformative books in political theory [however I happen to understand the boundaries of that discipline-- including political philosophy, parts of legal theory, parts of intellectual history, etc.] published in 2005. I restrict myself to formal publication dates in 2005, so omit, e.g., William Galston, The Practice of Liberal Pluralism, Steven Smith's Law's Quandary, and Seyla Benhabib, The Rights of Others which all came out at the very end of '04-- but now I've just mentioned them, so I guess they're not wholly excluded after all.

The list is heavy on the 18th century, which is certainly in part because that's where my attention's been directed lately. But I think Hont's and Robertson's books, along with the Pocock series of which the book below is volume 4, do add up to a sense that there's renewed energy and argument about enlightenment political thought. Hont, Robertson, and Pocock are often in direct argument with one another, in ways that help the reader to see what's controversial and exciting and at stake. I don't know of another part of the field that saw such a cluster of important and contending works published this year.

I find some of these books more persuasive or interesting than others, of course. Some I suspect point down dead ends. But none am I willing to lightly assume points down a dead end; in each case I'm at least eager to see what other ideas are generated by people going in the directions these books suggest. And some aren't meant to be agenda-setting books but make real contributions on their own.

I exclude all books that are first monographs published by young scholars, though that means leaving off some of the year's finest work. That's because I'm chair of the APSA/Foundations of Political Theory Best First Book committee for 2005. Once that committee has deliberated and awarded the prize, I'll make an effort to plug the awardee[s] as well as other books from that pool.

Disclosure: The discipline is so small that any list like this is riddled with various intersections of interest; many of these people are friends and/or colleagues in one way or another.

In no particular order:

Jealousy of Trade : International Competition and the Nation-State in Historical Perspective, by Istvan Hont.

Publisher's description:
This collection explores eighteenth-century theories of international market competition that continue to be relevant for the twenty-first century. "Jealousy of trade" refers to a particular conjunction between politics and the economy that emerged when success in international trade became a matter of the military and political survival of nations. Today, it would be called "economic nationalism," and in this book Hont connects the commercial politics of nationalism and globalization in the eighteenth century to theories of commercial society and Enlightenment ideas of the economic limits of politics.

Barbarism and Religion, Vol. 4: Barbarians, Savages and Empires, by J.G.A. Pocock

Publisher's description:
This fourth volume in John Pocock's great sequence on Barbarism and Religion focuses on the idea of barbarism. Barbarism was central to the history of western historiography, to the history of the enlightenment, and to Edward Gibbon himself. As a concept it was deeply problematic to enlightened historians seeking to understand their own civil societies in the light of exposure to newly-discovered civilizations hitherto beyond the reach of history. The troubled relationship between philosophy and history is addressed directly in this fourth volume.

The Persistence of Subjectivity : On the Kantian Aftermath, by Robert Pippin

Publisher's description:
What might it mean to take seriously Hegel's claim that philosophical reflection is always reflection on the historical "actuality" of its own age? Discussing Heidegger, Gadamer, Adorno, Leo Strauss, Manfred Frank, and John McDowell, Robert Pippin attempts to understand how subjectivity arises in contemporary institutional practices such as medicine, as well as in other contexts such as modernism in the visual arts and in the novels of Marcel Proust.

Politics and Passion : Toward a More Egalitarian Liberalism and Arguing About War, by Michael Walzer.

Note: Treated as one book; each is a slender collection of Walzer's already-published writings, one on domestic politics and political theory, one on international questions. There was good reason to separate them for publishing purposes but I recommend buying and reading them together.

Publisher's descriptions:
1. Liberalism is egalitarian in principle, but why doesn’t it do more to promote equality in practice? In this book, the distinguished political philosopher Michael Walzer offers a critique of liberal theory and demonstrates that crucial realities have been submerged in the evolution of contemporary liberal thought.

In the standard versions of liberal theory, autonomous individuals deliberate about what ought to be done—but in the real world, citizens also organize, mobilize, bargain, and lobby. The real world is more contentious than deliberative. Ranging over hotly contested issues including multiculturalism, pluralism, difference, civil society, and racial and gender justice, Walzer suggests ways in which liberal theory might be revised to make it more hospitable to the claims of equality.

Combining profound learning with practical wisdom, Michael Walzer offers a provocative reappraisal of the core tenets of liberal thought. Politics and Passion will be required reading for anyone interested in social justice—and the means by which we seek to achieve it.

2. Michael Walzer is one of the world's most eminent philosophers on the subject of war and ethics. Now, for the first time since his classic Just and Unjust Wars was published almost three decades ago, this volume brings together his most provocative arguments about contemporary military conflicts and the ethical issues they raise. The essays in the book are divided into three sections. The first deals with issues such as nuclear deterrence, humanitarian intervention, and terrorism. The second consists of Walzer's responses to particular wars, including the first Gulf War, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. And the third presents an essay in which Walzer imagines a future in which war might play a less significant part in our lives. In his introduction, Walzer reveals how his thinking has changed over time. Written during a period of intense debate over the proper use of armed force, this book gets to the heart of difficult problems and argues persuasively for a moral perspective on war.

Frontiers of Justice : Disability, Nationality, Species Membership (The Tanner Lectures on Human Values), by Martha C. Nussbaum

Publisher's description:
Theories of social justice are necessarily abstract, reaching beyond the particular and the immediate to the general and the timeless. Yet such theories, addressing the world and its problems, must respond to the real and changing dilemmas of the day. A brilliant work of practical philosophy, Frontiers of Justice is dedicated to this proposition. Taking up three urgent problems of social justice neglected by current theories and thus harder to tackle in practical terms and everyday life, Martha Nussbaum seeks a theory of social justice that can guide us to a richer, more responsive approach to social cooperation. The idea of the social contract—especially as developed in the work of John Rawls—is one of the most powerful approaches to social justice in the Western tradition. But as Nussbaum demonstrates, even Rawls's theory, suggesting a contract for mutual advantage among approximate equals, cannot address questions of social justice posed by unequal parties. How, for instance, can we extend the equal rights of citizenship—education, health care, political rights and liberties—to those with physical and mental disabilities? How can we extend justice and dignified life conditions to all citizens of the world? And how, finally, can we bring our treatment of nonhuman animals into our notions of social justice? Exploring the limitations of the social contract in these three areas, Nussbaum devises an alternative theory based on the idea of "capabilities." She helps us to think more clearly about the purposes of political cooperation and the nature of political principles—and to look to a future of greater justice for all.

Theories of social justice, addressing the world and its problems, must respond to the real and changing dilemmas of the day. A brilliant work of practical philosophy, Frontiers of Justice is dedicated to this proposition. Taking up three urgent problems of social justice--those with physical and mental disabilities, all citizens of the world, and nonhuman animals--neglected by current theories and thus harder to tackle in practical terms and everyday life, Martha Nussbaum seeks a theory of social justice that can guide us to a richer, more responsive approach to social cooperation.

The Case for The Enlightenment : Scotland and Naples 1680-1760, by John Robertson

Publisher's description:
Challenging the recent tendency to fragment the Enlightenment in eighteenth-century Europe into multiple Enlightenments, John Robertson demonstrates the extent to which thinkers in two societies at the opposite ends of Europe shared common intellectual preoccupations. Before 1700, Scotland and Naples faced a bleak future as backward, provincial kingdoms in a Europe of aggressive commercial states. Yet by 1760, Scottish and Neapolitan thinkers were in the van of those advocating the cause of Enlightenment by means of political economy. Robertson pays particular attention to the greatest thinkers in each country, David Hume and Giambattista Vico.

The Enlightenment's Fable : Bernard Mandeville and the Discovery of Society , by E. J. Hundert

Publisher's description:
The apprehension of society as an aggregation of self-interested individuals is a dominant modern concern, but one first systematically articulated during the Enlightenment. This book approaches this problem from the perspective of the challenge offered to inherited traditions of morality and social understanding by Bernard Mandeville, whose infamous paradoxical maxim "private vices, public benefits" profoundly disturbed his contemporaries, while his The Fable of the Bees had a decisive influence on David Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Adam Smith and Immanuel Kant. Professor Hundert examines the sources and strategies of Mandeville's science of human nature and the role of his ideas in shaping eighteenth century economic, social and moral theories.

Political Obligations, by George Klosko

Publisher's description:
Political Obligations provides a full defense of a theory of political obligation based on the principle of fairness (or fair play), which is widely viewed as the strongest theory of obligation currently available. The work responds to the most important objections to the principle of fairness, and extends a theory based on fairness into a developed "multiple principle" theory of obligation. In order to establish the need for such a theory, Political Obligations criticizes alternative theories of obligation based on a natural duty of justice and "reformist" consent, and critically examines the non-state theories of libertarian and philosophical anarchists. The work breaks new ground by providing the first in-depth study of popular attitudes towards political obligations and how the state itself views them. The attitudes of ordinary citizens are explored through small focus groups, while the "self image of the state" in regard to the obligations of its citizens is studied through examination of judicial decisions in three different democratic countries.

The Idea of the State , by Peter J. Steinberger

Publisher's description:
Political theory has been characterized by a pronounced distrust of metaphysical or ontological speculation for more than a half-century. However, Peter J. Steinberger reaffirms the importance of systematic philosophical inquiry into the foundations of political life in view of changing trends. Steinberger demonstrates how such an approach can cast a new and instructive light on a variety of controversial, seemingly intractable problems of tolerance, civil disobedience, democracy and consent.

Democratic Faith, by Patrick Deneen

Publisher's description:
The American political reformer Herbert Croly wrote, "For better or worse, democracy cannot be disentangled from an aspiration toward human perfectibility." Democratic Faith is at once a trenchant analysis and a powerful critique of this underlying assumption that informs democratic theory. Patrick Deneen argues that among democracy's most ardent supporters there is an oft-expressed belief in the need to "transform" human beings in order to reconcile the sometimes disappointing reality of human self-interest with the democratic ideal of selfless commitment. This "transformative impulse" is frequently couched in religious language, such as the need for political "redemption." This is all the more striking given the frequent accompanying condemnation of traditional religious belief that informs the "democratic faith."

At the same time, because so often this democratic ideal fails to materialize, democratic faith is often subject to a particularly intense form of disappointment. A mutually reinforcing cycle of faith and disillusionment is frequently exhibited by those who profess a democratic faith--in effect imperiling democratic commitments due to the cynicism of its most fervent erstwhile supporters.

Deneen argues that democracy is ill-served by such faith. Instead, he proposes a form of "democratic realism" that recognizes democracy not as a regime with aspirations to perfection, but that justifies democracy as the regime most appropriate for imperfect humans. If democratic faith aspires to transformation, democratic realism insists on the central importance of humility, hope, and charity.

What do you think I've left off? I've already thought of a few, but I'll hold off on mentioning them until I've heard from a few readers.

(After finishing up this topic, I expect to return to blogsilence for a long while.)

Update: OK, here are my two candidates-- twelve altogether, to make one book per month in 2005:

Ian Shapiro, The Flight from Reality in the Human Sciences
Iris Marion Young, On Female Body Experience.

And here's my top three to look forward to in 2006:
Adrian Vermeule, Judging Under Uncertainty : An Institutional Theory of Legal Interpretation
David Schmidtz, The Elements of Justice
Anthony Appiah, Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers

Monday, December 19, 2005

Hey, that's kind of nice.

Just got my new Perspectives on Politics in the mail, and noticed that my work is cited in an article. Nice because I was also cited in the last two journals that showed up: the most recent American Political Science Review and the most recent Political Theory. (Some links may require subscriptions.) And in all three cases by people I don't know or barely know.

Not a big deal. But a nice little salve to wounded pride.
This post has been removed after a week-- not because anyone's asked me to do so (they haven't) but because I always conceived this as a temporary note rather than a permanent entry into google. Got the word out to people who'd be interested, and that was its purpose.

It's unpleasant, it was in my opinion badly done and done for bad reasons-- but it's done now.
This post has been removed after a week-- not because anyone's asked me to do so (they haven't) but because I always conceived this as a temporary note rather than a permanent entry into google. Got the word out to people who'd be interested, and that was its purpose.

It's unpleasant, it was in my opinion badly done and done for bad reasons-- but it's done now.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

This post has been removed after a week-- not because anyone's asked me to do so (they haven't) but because I always conceived this as a temporary note rather than a permanent entry into google. Got the word out to people who'd be interested, and that was its purpose.

It's unpleasant, it was in my opinion badly done and done for bad reasons-- but it's done now.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

In which Crooked Timber proves itself to be the coolest blog, ever. I love these book seminars they do, and this is the best yet.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Just in case any interested students happen to look here for this kind of information:

PLSC 25710/35710, HIST 22703/32703. The Long 18th Century I.

Prerequisite for undergraduates: At least four quarters of political or social theory or philosophy (including core sequences); waived for students taking part in the French-language section (see below).

This course will examine political, legal, and economic thought in Western Europe from 1688 until the middle of the 18th century. It will focus on French and Scottish thought during the early years of the post-Glorious Revolution era and the Enlightenment, with particular attention given to Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Smith. Other authors read include Locke, Mandeville, Voltaire, Diderot, Hume, and Ferguson.

Students may take this course or its spring successor (on the American and French Revolutions, the American founding, and the English 1790s) without taking the other, but there will be considerable gains from taking them in sequence.

The winter quarter will include an optional French-language discussion section for students interested in reading selections from 18th-century French political thought in the original. Students who take part in this section and also write a paper in French may use this course toward a Romance Languages concentration or minor.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Newly-posted on SSRN: Contextualism, Constitutionalism, and Modus Vivendi Approaches

Newly-published: Community Matters: Challenges to Civic Engagement in the 21st Century, Verna Gehring ed., with contributors including William Galston, Meira Levinson, Robert Fullinwider, and me, among others.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Miers continued:

Something that's struck me in the past two days is the difficulty the administration has had in fighting one fire about the Miers nomination without adding fuel to the other. The first is the "Souter problem," the fact that a lot of the (especially social) conservative base cares deeply about judicial appointments, care for reasons that are almost entirely about outcomes (will Roe be reversed or not?-- see Jonah Goldberg), and care in ways that leave them deeply distrustful of "stealth candidates" appointed by Republican presidents.

The second is the "crony-too-far" problem-- the sense (expressed very well in both Randy Barnett's WSJ op-ed on cronyism and George Will's column) that Miers is unqualified for the post of Supreme Court justice and that she has been chosen primarily because of her closeness to President Bush.

The difficulty is that, in order to answer the first set of critics, the administration and its allies are resorting to saying: "Trust us; the President knows her really well, and she's a real right-winger not a potential Souter." But that only emphasizes the fact that she's an insider pick. The more they say "trust us," the more skeptics of the second sort will say, "We shouldn't have to take Supreme Court nominations on faith, and the fact that George W. Bush is the guy who has all this secret knowledge about her makes us more worried, not less."

And so Reginald Brown's defense of Miers quoted by Orin Kerr over at the Conspiracy, asks us to believe that Bush approached the appointment seriously, because "This is a man who almost lost the Presidency because of the liberal activism of the Florida Supreme Court"-- the very last issue that should be brought up to reassure those who are worried about cronyism threatening judicial independence. It goes on to say,
Judging takes work, but the folks who think "constitutional reasoning" is a talent requiring divination, intense effort and years of monastic study are the same folks who will inevitably give you "Lemon tests," balancing formulas, "penumbras" and concurrences that make your head spin. The President sees through that mumbo jumbo and recognizes that good Justices are the ones who focus on the Constitution’s text, structure and history and who call balls and strikes. Bush is in favor of demystifying the Court and the Miers choice is part of that effort.[...]She also happens to be a gun-toting evangelical who gives money to pro-life organizations and spends her free time taking care of her elderly mom. [...] Miers lives in the real world. She knows what the practical impact of a Kelo decision will be and that the laws of Nigeria and the European Union aren’t terribly relevant to U.S. constitutional analysis. And as important, the people that she hangs out with don’t give a hoot what Linda Greenhouse and the New York Times think.

The anti-liberal-judicial-elitism card is cute, but only aggravates the cronyism worries. John Cornyn's WSJ op-ed is much the same.

The NYT has so far been presenting conservative worry about Miers as being mainly Type 1. But, in the blogosphere and the conservative legal academy and intelligentsia, it's much more Type 2. And the more defenses we see of Miers that say, "She don't go in for that fancy hifalutin law stuff," the worse the Type 2 worry will get, for at least two reasons. One is the slap-in-the-face aspect. Many brilliant conservative lawyers dedicated to moving the law in a conservative direction have spent a generation excelling in the legal academy and on the bench by making important, impressive arguments about constitutional law. The Miers pick, and this defense of the Miers pick, is an open insult to those scholars and judges: "We don't like your kind, with your fancy law degrees and all; you're just like the libruls, because you think constitutional law requires hard intellectual work." That's tactically stupid, a deeply demoralizing message to send to those whose intellectual work has done so much and holds the promise to do more.

But the Type 2 worry isn't just about amour propre. People who hold it ctually believe-- rightly-- that this appointment is wrong, that friendship with the president is not a qualification for the Supreme Court, that constitutional law does require hard intellectual work that requires practice and thought in advance, and that the absence of any of the convetnional qualifications is something to at least worry about. The more the administration defends against Type 1 by saying "Miers ain't one of them fancy elite types with their heads full of fancy law-larning," the more impossible it becomes to defend against Type 2.

Monday, October 03, 2005

OK, I shouldn't spend all day e-mailing bloggers on a topic and pretend I'm not blogging. So, briefly:

1) Lawrence Solum has the definitive Harriet Miers blog post.

2) My official slogan for what I think will happen at the hearings: this nomination is "A crony too far." All the slack people cut Bush, pre-Katrina and for non-lifetime appointments, when he appointed people purely because he'd seen into their heart, will be absent in a post-Brown, post-Katrina, Supreme Court context. Personal loyalty to the President may be a relevant qualification for White House counsel but simply is not for Supreme Court justice; and Senators know this. What's more, they actually care, both because they're afraid of going down with Bush's cronyism ship at this point, and because they care deeply and self-importantly about the Senate's vaunted prerogatives. If the Supreme Court is reduced to a Presidential patronage position, then Advise And Consent loses all its advertised majesty.

3) Fill in this sentence, with a straight face. "Harriet Miers is one of the nine [or even ninety] most ________ lawyers in America," or "is one of the best ________ in America." Now try to fill in the blanks with anything that does not involve the words "President Bush" (i.e. "trusted by President Bush," "personally close to President Bush," etc.) Attention GOP operatives: No fair just saying "qualified;" there has to be some operationalization of "qualified" that doesn't involve the words "President Bush." NB: someone cribbed this from me, after I went into his office and said it out loud...

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Seen two very good movies in two days.

First of all, everyone should go see Proof, mixed reviews notwithstanding and even if (like me) you're fundamentally annoyed by Gwynneth Paltrow. It's quite well done, with great performances from Anthony Hopkins, Hope Davis and (grrr... pulling teeth) especially Paltrow, who does strung-out-by-grief-and-coffee-or-maybe-crazy quite convincingly. (Jake Gyllenhall is fine but nothing special.) The heroin chic body helps here, whereas I always find it weird when we're supposed to believe she's a great beauty. But mainly she actually acts it well. The writing is, well, the same as the writing of the play for all but two scenes, and the play was great.

And the movie is the most deeply University of Chicago I can imagine a movie being. Not the two-minute When Harry Met Sally opener, not the Indiana Jones fleeing from his office hours gag, but a complete movie both set in and filmed in the confines of the university and the neighborhood and capturing them both, visually and emotionally. They got it right. It's not a true story, but it's what that story would have been like.

Then last night we saw a special sneak preview of Serenity (with this guy).

Hot damn.

No spoilers ahead.

We went with one person who'd never seen the TV show Firefly, and he didn't have any problem following it at all and really enjoyed it. Exposition and character introduction are handled surprisingly smoothly and quickly, and the story manages to work really well as a stand-alone movie-sized story that just happens to have had 14 episodes of high-quality TV as setup, to get these characters to where they are at the beginning of the movie. It helps, in a way, that Firefly got cancelled so soon. It was still at the stage of mystery rather than mythology-- we were beginning to get a sense of what the questions were but didn't have elaborate continuinty-heavy answers yet. (The movie provides a lot of the crucial answers.)

For those who have seen the show: the movie is a little less frontier-inflected, a little less Chinese-inflected, a little more space adventure. But it's seamlessly continuous with the show-- in the social and political background, in the low-tech, patched-together atmosphere, in the subplots that get woven in, and in the characterization and character interaction.

This is not a genre-buster like Matrix or even a genre-redefiner like Blade Runner. It's more of an ante-raiser like Alien: "See? This thing that we've gotten used to seeing done badly can be done really, really well." For Alien, it was making a monster movie genuinely suspenseful, scary, and visually compelling. For Serenity, it's making space opera morally serious and centered on complete characters with convincing relationships and first-rate dialogue. I predict that it will make watching Star Wars or Star Trek movies harder to do without cringing.

And it's really, really good. There are a few tricks that will be familiar to fans of Buffy and Angel. And there are homages to Buffy as well as to Star Wars. But none of that is distracting or even noticeable for more than a second-- they'll make you chuckle if you get the connection and won't matter if you don't. There's a major trick that managed to take me completely off-guard, that's a terrific plotting idea.

There's Summer Blau, whose strikingly weird and creepy face manages to carry a lot of the atmosphere of the movie, and who turns professional ballet training into kick-ass movie martial arts very effectively. Nathan Fillian, Gina Torres, and Adam Baldwin prove themselves matches for the dialogue Joss Whedon gave them. (Harrison Ford famously complained to George Lucas, "You can write this shit, George, but you can't *say* it." Whedon's lines are meant to be said.) And the look of the movie proves that $40 million can go a long, long way in an age of good CGI.

Go see it. Make Universal Studios lots and lots of money, so that they will give it to Whedon and let him make more.

(See also this New York magazine review, which is a touch less spoiler-free than mine. And also: this fun, funny, offbeat joint interview with Joss Whedon and Neil Gaiman. I'll be moving on to Gaiman's new novel, Anansi Boys, as soon as it arrives from Amazon.)

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Department of free publicity:

Go see Serenity!

"Joss Whedon, the Oscar® - and Emmy - nominated writer/director responsible for the worldwide television phenomena of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE, ANGEL and FIREFLY, now applies his trademark compassion and wit to a small band of galactic outcasts 500 years in the future in his feature film directorial debut, Serenity. The film centers around Captain Malcolm Reynolds, a hardened veteran (on the losing side) of a galactic civil war, who now ekes out a living pulling off small crimes and transport-for-hire aboard his ship, Serenity. He leads a small, eclectic crew who are the closest thing he has left to family –squabbling, insubordinate and undyingly loyal."

Expectations are high; more will be blogged soon...

Friday, May 13, 2005


I came off the bench just this once to write the following:

Applause Lines, at TNR.

I should note that a few bloggers got there before I did, notably Matt Welch, Pejman, and Stephen Bainbridge. See also Anne Applebaum.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


I'm really not here.

But for the handful of people whose political, intellectual, and cultural tastes or at least knowledge overlap so neatly with mine that they'll get this, I thought I'd put it up. (Julian, John, Jon, and Russell, I'm looking your way.) For everyone else, well, it'll live on when people Google the right combination of words. And I find it too amusing to let it sit in the back of my head for months until I restart blogging.

Last night was the annual play-reading for the members of the University of Chicago's Law and Philosophy workshop, a fun tradition.

Tonight is Neil Gaiman's (yes, that Neil Gaiman)talk at the University-- indeed at the Court Theater, three short blocks from my front door.

One of the regulars of the play-reading, and there in a lead role last night, was one Richard Posner, Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of Chicago. He also holds down a side job, as you might have heard; he's a judge on the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

Now, as the four of you reading this post probably already know, Posner's side job brought him into indirect contact with Gaiman, when Posner upheld the forces of light and goodness by ruling in Gaiman's favor in Gaiman v McFarlane, the case that was proximately about the ownership of the three characters Gaiman created or co-created for Todd McFarlane's comic Spawn, but at a more fundamental level was about the IP rights to Marvelman/ Miracleman, which MacFarlane was supposed to trade to Gaiman in exchange for the rights to the Spawn characters. Posner's opinion has become something of a cult classic, for its careful and earnest explication of Spawn's origin.

So. Anyways. I got a kick out of being able to tell Posner that one of the parties in one of his cases was speaking on campus, and out of seeing him be genuinely impressed ("Really? Gaiman's coming here? I'd have thought he was too big a deal for college campus talks") and then seeing him turn to the person sitting next to us and explain who Gaiman was, the backstory of Spawn, and the backstory of Gaiman v McFarlane.

Then the dinner break was over, and we went back to our play reading. Which was, for the record: The Tempest, itself a work of some (Eisner-award-winning) significance in Gaiman's corpus. Judge Posner played Alonso. And I sat back and grinned at how much fun Hyde Park can be, and how neatly things sometimes connect.

PS: (Will, if you happen upon this, do me a favor and don't Levywatch it. It amuses me to think that it's going to sit hidden here.)